January 30, 1989 12:00 PM

PEOPLE picture editor M.C. Marden knew what she was doing when she selected Christopher Little, 40, to photograph President Bush. “He and Bush really hit it off,” she says. “The thing about Christopher is he gets along well with everybody, but it is especially nice when he hits it off with the man who is now the 41st President of the United States.”

The ice was broken at Kennebunk-port last August when PEOPLE sent Little to photograph George and Barbara Bush a few days before the Republican National Convention. Bush was wearing a gray suit for the occasion, and Little suggested it was a bit too formal. So the Vice-President invited Little into the bedroom to check out his clothes. “As we walked into the room,” says Little, “Mrs. Bush was literally buttoning her last button. She said, ‘George, I think this is a little bit of an intrusion.’ ” But when Bush said, “Barbara, you remember Christopher Little,” Mrs. Bush was the soul of graciousness as the two men headed to the closet. “The Vice-President undid his belt, and his trousers were down on the floor,” Little recalls. “At that very moment an aide stuck her head in the door and said, ‘Oh, my God, PEOPLE magazine is in the Vice-President’s bedroom, and he’s in his underpants.’ ”

But whether our new President wears boxers or briefs is a secret that’s safe with Little, who photographed the Bushes again in December for PEOPLE’S Year-End issue, then traveled to Colorado and Maine to shoot son Neil, 34, and daughter Dorothy LeBlond, 29, for this week’s story on the new First Family. “Bush was hugely cooperative and fun to be with,” says Little, whose portrait of the Bushes appears on this week’s cover.

Little, a native New Yorker, has journalism in his blood. His father, Stuart W. Little, wrote a theater column for the New York Herald Tribune, where Christopher got his first taste of news photography on a summer break from the Hotchkiss School. While an undergraduate at Yale, Little took pictures for Newsweek. When he graduated in 1972, he returned to New York and began shooting for TIME and then for PEOPLE. He has also done seven books, including two on ocean crossings he made with William F. Buckley Jr. He lives in a Chelsea loft with his wife, Betsy, 38, and their daughter, Eliza, 7.

In the process of taking hundreds of photographs for PEOPLE stories and covers, Little has earned a reputation for being able to put even the most high-strung subject at ease. Yet he admits, “The fact is, I am nervous before and during every assignment I have ever done in my life. The process puts me right on the edge.” However Little overcomes the tension, he invariably develops a rapport with the person in front of his lens. “I love that intimacy. It’s fleeting but intense, even magical.”

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